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Nearly 200 Gather for Vocations Awareness Event


The third annual Vocations Awareness and Recognition Awards Dinner was held Saturday, January 12 at St. Mary Cathedral in Gaylord. Planned by the Vocations Advisory Committee, the event marked the opening of our diocesan observance of National Vocations Awareness Week.

DSC_0687_1.JPGFollowing a Mass celebrated by Bishop Bernard Hebda, approximately 180 gathered for dinner in the Parish Hall. Recognizing his many years of priestly service, Fr. Gus Franczek was called upon to bless the meal and pray for a flourishing of vocations in our local Church. Fr. Don Geyman, Director of Vocations, served as the Master of Ceremonies for the evening while Fr. Matthew Wigton, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Charlevoix, offered the keynote address. Fr. Matthew weaved humor and personal stories into his talk which focused on the three types of vocations as explained by St. Ignatius of Loyola, noting, “In all of these types of vocations, we need to focus on becoming the person that God wants us to be; we need to blossom and be fashioned by the warmth of God’s love.” (The text of Fr. Wigton’s remarks may be read below.)

The final highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Vocations Recognition Awards by Bishop Hebda, presented in thanksgiving and gratitude to those who have made special efforts to support vocations in the Diocese of Gaylord. Honorees this year included: the family of Jan and Doug Wigton, a permanent deacon of our diocese; senior priest Father Francis Partridge; the Sisters of the Carmelite Monastery in Traverse City; and the Sisters of the Sacramentine Monastery and Augustine Center in Conway. Each received a “Fishers of Men” Rosary and a certificate signed by Bishop Hebda and Fr. Geyman. The awardees were also notified that a special Papal blessing had been bestowed upon them by Pope Benedict XVI.

DSC_0725_1.JPGThe Wigtons were recognized for their example of prayerfully supporting a variety of vocations in the Church. Doug and Janice are active parishioners at Holy Rosary in Cedar and have ten children. Of the ten; two are priests serving in our diocese, a third dedicated a number of years to discernment of God’s call in the seminary, two others spent a year volunteering with NET Ministries in offering retreat opportunities to Catholic youth and Catholic families, and all, whether married or single, are striving to live out their baptismal calling. With Jan’s support, Doug, was ordained to the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Gaylord in 2008.

Fr. Francis Partridge, a Charlevoix native, was honored not only for his priestly service over the past 52 years, but also for the contagious joy with which he lives out that vocation. Fr. Partridge has often shared his vocations story with retreatants and seminarians, and helps to shine a special light on the happiness one can find in responding generously to God’s call.

The Sisters of the Carmelite Monastery in Traverse City, a cloistered community, were recognized for their special apostolate of prayer and their commitment and witness to loving God above all else. The Carmelite Sisters have always supported our priests and seminarians with their prayers and many young people in the diocese have noted that the witness of the Carmelites has given them the strength and encouragement to respond to God’s call.

Through their prayers and hospitality, the Sisters of the Sacramentine Monastery and Augustine Center have likewise offered valuable support to men and women striving to discern and respond to their calling. For more than 50 years, the Augustine Center Retreat House, familiar to many in the diocese, has been that quiet place where those yearning for spiritual growth have been able to “come away and rest for a while” and hear the “still small voice” of their Creator.

As the night concluded, Bishop Hebda added a special word of thanks for everyone who had come to the event and for their ongoing support of vocations efforts. “How wonderful it is that we can come together from across the diocese for such a great evening. I want to thank each of you for all you do and encourage your ongoing prayers for vocations.” He then offered a blessing to conclude the evening.

The event was one of many special events taking place during this “Year of Faith” in which the Holy Father has called each of us to renew and reinvigorate our faith and to embrace the New Evangelization.

Below are Fr. Matthew Wigton's remarks made at the Vocations Awareness and Recognition Awards Dinner.

After telling you the joke about the 2 seminarians preparing for priesthood; I just want you to know that the 2 seminarians portray well the differences between Fr. Peter and myself. He is the creative and confident, liturgically correct clergy, while I am the problem creating catastrophic klutz.

DSC_0702_1.JPGI've been asked to be this evening's guest speaker. Being that it has been a long day, that it is evening, and that we have just eaten dinner; I wonder if it would be more appropriate to simply sing you a lullaby. But if God wanted you to hear a lullaby He would have surely chosen Fr. Peter as the guest speaker. I guess there is always next year for lullabies.

Since I cannot -- or rather, will not -- sing you a lullaby; I like to think of myself as the evening's “honored” bedtime story teller. I heard that Fr. Francis Partridge did a great job last year and nearly broke all the records for length of time. He told me that His vocation story is actually two stories and that he cannot possibly tell one without telling the other. Well, God bless Fr. Partridge for his courage! To those of you that were here last year, and have returned, I say to you: “God bless you for your courage!”

As bedtime draws near and my story proceeds, you will be able to tell that I'm close to succeeding in my “honored” endeavor to put you all to sleep when you begin to see the Bishop pretending to still look at me through nearly completely closed eyes. After that it's all downhill! Shortly thereafter, I'll be tip-toeing out of here. I have even parked my hot-rod, get-away car, at a safe distance in order not to wake you as I take off. I can vividly image you all waking up tomorrow and while trying to undo all the kinks in your necks, you will be greeted by the warmest and biggest smile of Little Francis as she prepares you a donut and some coffee.

On a more serious note, if that is possible, I do need to say something about the story of vocations; about God's call for each one of us. God is always calling us to serve Him, to love Him, to know Him; to serve each other, to love each other, and to know each other. His calling of love is constant and the grace of each moment is eternally beautiful. St. Augustine says: “I fear God, that is passing”. In other words, “I fear to not welcome and follow the Lord as He beckons me.” “I fear to miss the moment of grace that is now.” In all truth, we have only the present moment to love and to follow God.

It seems to me we have a tendency to worry about our vocation. We want to know what exactly it is that God is calling us to do. Some of us would like to hear God say, “Do this!” or “Go there!” But wouldn't that cancel out the whole meaning of walking in faith and learning to trust in God? We often forget that, above all, God wants to love us. If we let Him love us, then He Himself will carry us to where He is calling us.

Another way of looking at this is through St. Ignatius of Loyola's three types of vocations or callings. The first type of vocation is the person who finds his place and path in life by way of experience. If the experience gives him peace and joy then he has found the right vocation. The second type of vocation is the person who mentally cannot image himself doing anything else. He foresees himself doing something and when he does do it, it gives him great peace and joy. The third type of vocation is when our Lord directly intervenes and calls out: “Come and follow me!” as was the case for many of the Apostles.

In all of these types of vocation we need to focus on becoming the person that God wants us to be. We need to blossom and be fashioned by the warmth of God's love. As His love molds us, we become like a key that is cut to perfection; we can immediately tell in our hearts if the door that we are trying to open is the right one. Likewise, if we are like an uncut key, how will we figure out which door we are made to open? The more that we become God's sons and daughters, the more we will clearly distinguish God's call and which door we were created to open. His love calls us and draws us from within and from without, but if we know not His love, then what is calling us? What could be behind a door that has no love?

I guess that I should consider it to be quite an “honor” to be “honored” this evening and to be appointed the bedtime storyteller. In reality I think it's all a clever ploy to force me to be present. Imagine -- I even had to be on time! Just look around you! Where are all the other brother priests? They obviously have all politely denied the “honor” of being “honored.” I mean, it's obvious that the Vocations Committee had to go through the entire list, before coming to “Wigton.”

Being “honored” is a difficult thing. My mother has most surely been praying earnestly for weeks about whether or not such a thing could be God's will or not. My father has all but made me swear on a Bible to make sure that I give all the credit to God. The dear Sisters are here simply because they would not be Sisters if they didn't participate in diocesan events. Fr. Partridge had to accompany the Sisters for political reasons; after all, they are the ones who feed him and if you have ever seen Fr. Partridge eat, this is no little matter. Fr. Peter, well how could he say no, for crying out loud? He lives here! Fr. Don Geyman, he's the Vocation's Director! He's paid to be here! We won't say anything about the Bishop!

Yet, in all of this I have had some -- a couple -- of serious reflections. St. Paul says that God chooses the weak in order to confound the strong. Such is no doubt my case and I cannot help but rejoice in my weakness because it truly highlights the greatness of God's benevolence and mercy.

I would like to conclude with two short stories. The first one comes from our Lord, Jesus. The second one is a personal episode.

Consider the attitude of a servant. In Luke 17:7-10 we hear, “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’ ”

As God's servants, everything that we have done right or good has only been because we have followed the inspirations of His charity. How can we take credit for them? We can only thank the Lord for His inspirations, thank Him for giving us the grace to collaborate with some of them, and beg His pardon for the many inspirations to which we did not correspond.

The personal event that I am about to share with you is what I call: “My little Red Wagon Story.”

When I was about 8 years old we lived in a neighborhood situated on a hill roughly eighty feet high or so high. One fine day, some of the neighborhood kids and me, were having a lot of daring fun riding our little wagons down the hill. We would sit in the wagons and steer using the handle pulled back toward us. I am sure that you have all done the same thing at one point or another in your life. Well, being the very proud and generous older brother I was, I decided that I would kindly give my sister, three years younger than me, a ride down the hill. We both got in the little red wagon and then started flying down the road. For some reason something was different than the other times that I had gone down by myself. Maybe the extra weight made us go faster; maybe I had a harder time steering with my sister between my knees. Anyway, about three-quarters of the way down the hill we started to swerve back and forth. As I tried to correct the wagon, the swerving only got worse and the little red wagon catapulted us onto the road. I'm sure that it was all the little red wagon's fault! I really don't remember how far we tumbled after hitting the pavement. I just remember being a bit bloodied up. I quickly picked up my bruised and bloody sister and started to carry her home. I was such a proud little guy; first for giving my sister a ride in my wagon, and secondly, because I was to be her hero by carrying her off for medical attention without even being worried about my own wounds. Well, my memory has never been great, but I do remember my mom whisking my little sister away from me -- an action that kind of helped me understand that the danger was actually me. As I narrated to her my little red wagon story, I immediately found out, much to my dismay, that she was not very thrilled or impressed by it.

The reason that this story is so important for me is because in many ways it is the story of my life. How many times I have done things, even with good intentions, only to crash and burn, hurting myself and others? Jesus and Our Blessed Mother have always picked me up. Even though I've got a lot of bruises and scars -- and am often a bloody mess -- there is nothing more enjoyable and peaceful than to be little in their arms. This is the synthesis of my vocation.

Now, just so you know, you've got to be careful about what you say around the Bishop. He remembers everything. Twenty years from now, when he is the Cardinal of some big metropolis and I will have had the grace of being one of his altar servers, in his usual kind and gracious manner he will remind me of the little red wagon story. I'll respond like usual by exclaiming, “How in the world can you remember something so far back and so insignificant?” And humbling himself he will answer me by saying something like: “How could I not remember it? I was traumatized by it!” All I can think is that in his perpetual state of angelic innocence, everything that I say must traumatize him because he never forgets a word!

In conclusion and above all else, together let us thank the Lord and Our Blessed Mother for calling all of us to participate in the wondrous workings of God's Infinite Divine Love. May God bless you, and I bid you good night!

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